Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/168

This page has been validated.

effort to restore the equilibrium of brain centers. Dancing is a pastime as ancient as war itself. It involves none but the very oldest brain paths. It depends upon the very simplest and most primitive form of reaction, carrying us back to the infancy of man and allowing us to revel in the old and racially familiar memories. It affords complete rest and relaxation and tends quickly to establish equilibrium.

To those who do not understand this law of psychological compensation and who have been accustomed to regard the world as getting very serious and civilized and dignified, intent on moral and social improvement, there is something almost as ludicrous in the spectacle of dancing America as there is something pathetic and tragic in that of warring Europe. For in Europe, where the temper of the people lends itself less readily to these lighter forms of release, the reaction has taken the form of a return to most primitive bloodshed. Consequently the war came to us as a distinct shock. One heard everywhere the comment—"It is impossible. I thought we had got far beyond all that." The culture of Germany, France and England was so high that it was unbelievable that these people should suddenly develop hate in its most intense form with a frenzied desire to kill one another. To the psychologist, however, it seems not unreasonable. It is a temporary reversion to completely primitive instincts restoring the balance to an overwrought social brain.

Before the war we heard everywhere of "unrest," a great spiritual unrest. But the significance of this unrest was not understood. It was not due to untoward social or economic conditions, for the world has never seen conditions so favorable for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Its cause rather was to be found in an asymmetrical development of human personality, too much thought, too much effort, too much "efficiency," and not enough balance, not enough mere somatic vitality. In England this unrest displayed itself as a high degree of social irritability. On the stage it appeared as a carping criticism of social life and social institutions; in literature as a hysterical pursuit of new Utopias; in political life as jarring rumors of civil war.

In Russia just before the outbreak of the war the streets of Petrograd were barricaded by strikers and progressives jealous of real or fancied wrongs. Instantly when war was declared a great inward "peace" settled down upon the warring nations. The restless soul ceased in a moment its feverish upward striving after new inventions, new philosophy, new science and new thought. The brain centers were short-circuited. The social mind sank to the old level. It lived again in the old primitive emotions and the old racially familiar scenes, in pictures of bloodshed and rapine, in memories of the drum-beat and of the tread of marching armies. To be sure there was sorrow and suffering and anxious faces and hunger and hardship and countless woes but these